Preview & Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

Kurt —  October 28, 2008

Records: Lakers 0-0 Trailblazers 0-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers NA Trailblazers NA
Defensive ratings: Lakers NA Trailblazers NA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Trailblazers: Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, Lamarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden

Lakers notes: No better way to start off the season than with an old rival on the cusp of restarting said rivalry.

Off the court, the Lakers picked up the option on Jordan Farmar. That was the easy part, the harder part comes in the next couple of years as they figure out how much to pay him. But you don’t let an emerging starting PG walk away, so picking up his option year was obvious.

Not much else in terms of Lakers notes, as we just did the team preview. But if you want to read another good team preview, check out the one at SportsHubLA.

Links to Click: ESPN the Magazine reached out to some bloggers (the guys from FreeDarko, Basketbawful, The Painted Area, Hoopshype and many more) and asked about some of the big storylines for the upcoming season, and it is well worth the read. Here is my only printed response (really, the only good one I sent in), to the question: Can Mike D’Antono turn water into wine, or does that only work with fast-moving water?

“He can make wine out of water, but it’s going to be more Sutter Home White Zinfandel than Screaming Eagle cabernet. Great wine starts with great grapes, just like great teams start with great rosters. The Knicks are more Thompson’s seedless than old vine cabernet, but D’Antoni can make something entertaining that the masses in Madison Square Garden will enjoy more than what they have been served in recent years. Knicks fans—and more importantly Knicks ownership—need to remember that making great wines takes time and patience.”

Another link to check out (and frankly, thing to buy) is the new book from the brilliant minds at Free Darko. It hits the stores in a couple weeks, but there are widgets on the site where you can preview pages and chapters. Also, Henry has a glowing review up today at TrueHoop.

The Blazers Coming In: The Blazers have a lot of potential and that has their large fan base pumped up. The Blazers following includes one of the best sets of bloggers in the NBA (including what’s-his-name at ESPN). One of my favorite NBA bloggers period is Dave from Blazers Edge, who does some of the most insightful NBA writing out there. And he consented to answer a few questions from me.

1) There is a lot of hype around the Blazers, and in some quarters growing expectations. What are reasonable expectations for this team this season?

The hype is justified, but timed too early (as most hype is nowadays). The Blazers are going to be superb one day. They’re too young and are integrating too many new players to be superb this season no matter what you think of their talent. A reasonable expectation would be for the Blazers to struggle through a horrific early schedule, take some bruising to their confidence and shuffle the rotation a time or two, then pour it on after New Year’s to fight hard for a low playoff seed. With the turmoil surrounding most of the mid-level West teams right now Portland has a decent chance to get one of those spots. Winning a seven-game series against any of the conference’s elite teams would be too much to reasonably hope for. This will be Portland’s year to experience what a meaningful stretch run and (hopefully) playoff battle are really like, in preparation for when they do it for real down the road.

2) The team played last year without Oden, how are the players meshing with him through the preseason? How are Aldridge and Oden playing next to each other? Has it been better on offense or defense?

We haven’t seen the full Oden Effect yet and probably won’t through a good part of the season. I was in Las Vegas the summer when Amare Stoudemire was recovering from his knee surgery and played in Summer League to build his way back. I literally thought his career was done. He looked nothing like the Amare we had seen before or have seen since. I’m fairly impressed Oden can affect the game as much as he does having undergone surgery himself and having not played for a year. Aldridge and Oden will be fine together on both ends of the floor though. They are near perfect complements. Aldridge likes to play on the wings and use his fluidity and soft touch to score. He can score in the low post but it’s never been his favorite. He’s a new-breed power forward all the way. Oden is all about the post and bulling people over. His strength and size are scary down there. Aldridge will keep enough of his post game and Oden will develop enough of a jump hook to have that chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter synergy, but they won’t interfere with each other as much as two old-school big men would have. Both will be mobile on defense as well once Oden is up to speed. Basically one will stop his man while the other will swoop in from the other side to block the shot. Aldridge is one of the best perimeter defending big men I’ve seen in a long time and Oden fills the lane. Not much conflict there either. Of course a six-game pre-season run isn’t enough to work the kinks out and to learn timing and rotations but you can already see each carve out their territory.

3) What can we expect to see in terms of style of play? What do the Blazers need to do to win?

1. Get the ball inside on most possessions. That doesn’t mean Oden has to shoot or score, but the ball should penetrate to move the defense around. Oden is a willing passer if not an accomplished one yet, which will put pressure on the opposition even if they double him consistently. Last year the Blazers spent 3-4 passes to get a semi-covered jumper. This year those 3-4 passes should yield more dunks, lay-ups, and open threes.

2. Rebound, rebound, rebound. The Blazers were a poor defensive rebounding team last year. They had to send all five men to the boards to be sure of the possession which meant killing any semblance of a fast break or easy points. The Blazer forwards and centers need to own the ball off the glass and get it out.

3. Create more easy buckets. This is the aftermath of the rebounding thing. Brandon Roy and Steve Blake aren’t runners but if you look at the rest of the squad–Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Travis Outlaw, Martell Webster, Lamarcus Aldridge, even Greg Oden eventually–these guys either naturally belong on the break or are faster than the man guarding them most nights. Portland doesn’t have to install a Mike D’Antoni offense but they do need those six points off of lay-ups they were missing last season.

Mix aggression with reliability on defense. The Blazers were a fine percentage defending team last year. They chose intentionally not to let men by them and did whatever it took to keep shots covered. This meant playing off of guys a lot, sticking to individual assignments instead of roaming passing lanes, and making emergency big man rotations a huge priority. All of that combined contributed to the weakness in eventual rebounding position. Plus the Blazers couldn’t force a turnover against a blindfolded kindergartener with Crisco on his hands. Again, you don’t need a Golden State-type defense but you do need more disruption, more risk-taking, and more confidence in your backstop if those risks fail.

Check out his preview of tonight’s game.

Keys To The Game: Everyone is talking about the Bynum v. Oden matchup. I hope this is the opening bell of a 10-round (year) battle between two real heavyweights. But Reed brings up a good question: Since Bynum has done battle at the NBA level with Shaq/Howard/Yao, is he better positioned for tonight to take advantage of the rookie? I think Bynum could have a good night.

However, the real key to tonight’s game — and the most fun part — will be when the two benches are on the floor. Both teams have a starting five that is good but more deliberate in style, then they go with the change of pace bringing in a deep bench. The Blazers bring in Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Channing Frye, Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla. When the two benches are on the court, this is going to be an up-and-down shootout that should be very entertaining. If one team can gain the advantage there, it will be huge.

Last season the Blazers took 75% of their offensive shots from the perimeter (as jump shots). Dave from Blazers edge said that the goal this year is for Portland to be an inside-out team, and with Oden and Aldridge. The Lakers need to not let them establish an inside presence, to force them back into being a jump shooting squad.

The Lakers cannot leave Blake, Bayless and the Europeans alone to shoot the three, they need to close out on those guys on the wing.

Where you can watch: TNT has the exclusive broadcast rights. So, I’d be shocked if: 1) The game starts on time; 2) Barkley doesn’t make me wince at least once.